Arrowtown to Macetown – Following the Backroads

The 4wd track from Arrowtown to Macetown was actually our first adventure in the Nissan just before winter set in, hence it was our last for awhile. When your teabag freezes in your cup it’s probably a good indication that it’s a wee bit cold for camping.

It had actually been raining the week before, so erring on the side of caution, we payed a visit to the ladies at the Arrowtown Information Centre beforehand to see if it was safe. Of course they said, “Unmmm well it’s been raining alot – I wouldn’t recommend it”. So what did we do – we went anyway! Now I’m not recommending you do this if you’re not an experienced 4×4 driver, but having had buses on 90 Mile Beach, we’ve experienced our fair share of disasters that we’ve had to dig our way out of, so you could say this is not our first rodeo.

The track is actually right at the back of Arrowtown, you know down in Chinatown where lots of Instagrammers take photos in the autumn. It passes through a few muddied river crossings where hopeful parents watch their children pan for gold. Some are even quite deep at this stage but nothing to push the panic button about just yet – although its about this stage that I start to wonder if a snorkel would be a prudent purchase. 

Chinatown in Arrowtown

From here it’s a steady climb up into the valley, it’s narrow and windy with some decent drops on my side of the vehicle but luckily I’m not scared of heights. Remnants of the area’s goldmining history dot the route everywhere, remains of chimneys, stone fences, retaining walls, piles of discarded rocks – evidence of unfulfilled gold dreams.

Crossing The Arrow River
The Arrow Gorge

Here’s a bit of a history lesson. Macetown was founded in 1860 as a result of gold being struck in the area. Settlements rose up out of the valley alongside the Arrow River and once you actually get to Macetown, there are  a few restored buildings left – Smith’s Bakehouse, Needham’s Cottage, and the old Schoolhouse, an ode to the past residents that tried to make a living here.

Joseph Needham was the School Master from 1877 to 1879 before he tried his own hand at goldmining.

William Tily Smith ran a store in Macetown for over fifty years. He also did the twice-weekly mail run to Arrowtown and built the bakehouse.

William Jenkins frequently rode wildly through the streets of Macetown. By 1921 he was the only remaining resident and promptly declared himself Mayor.

The views, I’m sure, from your front yard were spectacular – looking straight at the back of The Cadrona Range – but that doesn’t  mean life wasn’t tough. After the gold dried up, the miners turned their attention to the quartz in the hills, however by 1930, Macetown was a ghost town. A relic of the past.

The drive along the 4wd route is approximately 15km long and it’s full to the brim with  spectacular scenery, over 20 river crossings, and steeped in history but there is also a fabulous DOC campground at the other end. Not the kind that has regimented sites either, it’s just a huge expanse of area with sparsely spread sites, some with views of The Arrow, some directly on The Arrow, complete with their own firepits. This is probably my top 4wd tip – always pack a sack of firewood just incase. It’s not always possible to have a fire at these remote spots and if it’s not that’s ok, nobody wants to be responsible for setting the back country alight but as the frost settled on the ground infront of us, we were pretty certain the chance of a blaze was limited.

We found ourselves a sheltered campsite down by the river with a ready made firepit and couldn’t believe our luck that we had the place to ourselves. Literally us and the stars above – not even a mozzie in sight. Albeit we were dressed like snowman with layers upon layers of wool from head to toe but what was to complain about when you are cooking salmon over an open fire in the back of beyond.

Cooking Salmon over the open fire

I’m not gonna lie though, it was a cold, cold night and I’m not convinced wearing layers of thermal clothing is entirely the best way to keep warm in bed but I tried. In hindsight perhaps sleeping in my deckchair infront of the fire would have been a better bet. Safe to say there are no morning after pictures as not alot of sleep was had that night. Also waking up to a dripping tent was not ideal either so the second stop on the way home, (the first was to the Pub), was to buy waterproofing.

We spent the next day wandering around the historic sites, visiting Anderson’s Battery, where we came across some Te Araroa Trail walkers that had come in over the Saddle, relishing the sunshine after a rather frosty night spent in the mountains. I have recently completed a section of this particular part of The Te Araroa Trail, ( the easiest section too), and I can tell you, it’s not an easy hike and I’m just in awe of anyone who attempts the whole thing.

Sadly it’s a one way in one way out kinda trip and its a slow descent back to civilization but what a way to end our first foray away in the Nissan than with a nice chilled glass of local Roaring Meg at the Fork and Arrow in Arrowtown.

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